Reaching the goal via various educational pathways?

Analysis of career histories and options in commercial fields of activity

Silvia Annen, Michael Tiemann

Bachelor courses of study offer young people the option of acquiring a professional qualification within three years. The consequence of this could be that skilled workers who have completed initial and advanced VET will be competing with Bachelor graduates for the same occupational positions in future. Against this background, a current BIBB research project investigates typical educational pathways in the commercial sector.

Has the Bologna reform had any effect on educational pathways?

Secondary school leavers are increasingly looking towards degree courses as opposed to vocational education and training. Adjusted evaluations of new starters in the education sectors show that there were only slightly more new training contracts for the dual system in 2014 (approximately 490,000) compared to students starting university (around 460,000) (cf. DIONISIUS/ILLIGER 2015). The question therefore arises as to whether the Bologna reform has influenced people’s personal educational decisions. It would seem that school leavers with the necessary qualifications for higher education are increasingly opting for a Bachelor’s programme, as the ability to come out with an academic degree within the same training time promises greater social prestige and a higher classification on the pay scale. As a result, the dual system would be losing out on the highest-performing candidates (cf. BAETHGE et al. 2014). Skilled workers with advanced vocational training could find themselves particularly affected by the competition from the new peer group, as upgrading training traditionally allows for promotion as far as the (middle) technical and management level.

Commercial career paths are particularly appealing to young people with qualifications for higher education. When it comes to new training contracts for trainees with the necessary qualifications for higher education, five of the six most popular training occupations are within the commercial sector. The proportion of applicants with qualifications for higher education on new training contracts is considerably lower than 50 per cent in only two of these occupations (administrative assistant and retail salesperson) (cf. Figure).

Figure: The six most popular dual training occupations amongst trainees with qualifications for higher education (Vocational Training Act (BBiG)/Crafts and Trades Regulation Code (HwO)) 2012 (new training contracts)

Source: Based on FRANK/HEISTER/WALDEN 2015, p. 24

New competition within the employment system?

Competitive situations in the employment system are particularly prevalent wherever the requirements and activities of a job are similar. On this basis, it can be assumed that commercial and theory-based technical advanced training courses are more likely to compete with Bachelor’s programmes than the same type of qualifications in the industrial and manual sectors (cf. WEIß 2007).

At the same time, however, there are also complementary qualification profiles involving different tasks and areas of application depending on the business. In addition to sector-specific differences, this is also where company personnel structures and the level of participation in training really come into play (cf. BOTT 2012, p. 7).

Existing studies tend to focus primarily on the relationship between skilled workers with either an academic or vocational training background in terms of their recruitment and career aspects. These essentially involve an analysis of their competitive situations and potential substitution effects, whilst the reasons for favouring one qualification route over another tend to be overlooked.

Research concept behind the TyBi project

On the one hand, the aim of the TyBi project, which looks at “typical educational and career pathways in selected commercial sectors – competition and complementarity between vocationally and academically qualified individuals”, is to track typical qualification and career pathways in selected sectors (such as commerce, banking, logistics and tourism) in order to highlight approaches to similar activities across various routes into learning (both academic and vocational). On the other hand, it is also intended to determine the reasons for favouring or rejecting the various routes into learning, so as to identify just how relevant certain qualifications are on the labour market (employment status, position and salary) and derive certain guidelines for vocational education and training pathways. To answer these questions, the project has four different methodological approaches.

The project starts with an investigation into vocational training and – more specifically – advanced training regulations, as well as corresponding curricula in the higher education sector, based on a qualitative approach and document analysis. This involves a particular evaluation of educational pathways at level six of the German Qualifications Framework (DQR). The curriculum analysis is intended to provide an insight into the content and structure of the vocational and academic qualifications in question, as well as their benchmarks and coverage.

The second phase involves carrying out an analysis of job advertisements for commercial positions and roles. This is based on the database of vacancies registered with the Bundesagentur für Arbeit [Federal Employment Agency] at the BIBB. Job advertisements are written by companies with vacancies to describe the details and requirements of the role, as well as the necessary qualifications. Companies also include a list of alternative qualifications and minimum requirements.

In the third phase case studies and a company survey will be undertaken as part of a closer investigation of company recruitment strategies and the relevant criteria within the aforementioned sectors. The companies are selected based on the sector structure (including their range of services, organisation and personnel structure). Within the companies in question, structured expert interviews are conducted with recruiters, as well as further interviews with employees from vocational training and academic backgrounds. The study therefore covers the different perceptions of recruitment strategies, relevance within the labour market, and personnel development concepts, thereby facilitating a multi-perspective analysis. The results of the case studies will form the basis of a standardised questionnaire, which will be used to ensure that the qualitative results of the case studies can be empirically substantiated on a wider scale at company level.

In the fourth phase, a follow-up survey to the BIBB/BAuA Employment Survey 2017/18 is expected to provide an insight into the relevance of vocational and academic qualifications within the labour market from an individual perspective. The BIBB/BAuA Employment Surveys are representative of workers in core-employment in Germany (sample size: approx. 20,000 people). This data can also be used to perform longitudinal analyses at an aggregate level (including occupations, sectors and activities).

This multi-perspective approach is intended to reveal an insight into people’s personal educational decisions along with company recruitment strategies and the reasons behind these. The results of the document and job advertisement analyses are expected by the middle of 2017. The results of the case studies, company survey and BIBB/BAuA follow-up survey will be available by the end of 2018.


BAETHGE, M. et al.: Zur neuen Konstellation zwischen Hochschulbildung und Berufsausbildung [The new constellation between higher education and vocational training] (Forum Hochschule 3/2014). Hanover 2014 – URL: www.dzhw.eu/pdf/pub_fh/fh-201403.pdf (retrieved: 31.03.2016)

BOTT, P. et al.: Auswirkungen der neuen gestuften Studiengänge auf die Abschlüsse in der beruflichen Aus- und Fortbildung. Abschlussbericht. [The impact of the new tiered programmes of study on vocational training and advanced training qualifications. Final report.] Bonn 2012 – URL: www2.bibb.de/bibbtools/tools/dapro/data/documents/pdf/eb_23202.pdf (retrieved: 31.03.2016)

DIONISIUS, R.; ILLIGER, A.: Mehr Anfänger/-innen im Studium als in Berufsausbildung? [More people starting degree courses than vocational education and training?] In: BWP 44 (2015) 4, pp. 43–45 – URL: www.bibb.de/veroeffentlichungen/de/publication/show/id/7689 (retrieved: 31.03.2016)

FRANK, I.; HEISTER, M.; WALDEN, G.: Berufsbildung und Hochschulbildung. Durchlässigkeit und Verzahnung als bildungspolitische Herausforderungen – bisherige Entwicklungen und aktuelle Herausforderungen [Vocational training and higher education. The educational challenges of permeability and integration – past developments and current challenges] (Wissenschaftliche Diskussionspapiere 166). Bonn 2015 – URL: www.bibb.de/veroeffentlichungen/en/publication/show/id/7724 (retrieved: 31.03.2016)

WEIß, R.: Bachelor Professional – ein Beitrag zur Aufwertung der beruflichen Bildung? [Professional Bachelor’s programmes – a step towards the revaluation of vocational training?] In: BWP 36 (2007) 4, pp. 47–50 – URL: www.bibb.de/veroeffentlichungen/de/publication/show/id/1256 (retrieved: 31.03.2016)

Dr., Research Associate in the “Commercial, media and logistics occupations” Division at BIBB

Dr., Research Associate in the “Qualification, occupational integration and employment” Division at BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 3/2016): Martin Kelsey, Global Sprachteam, Berlin